In his 1982 hit “Jack and Diane”, rock singer John Mellencamp describes two high-school sweethearts, who are oblivious to the inevitable awakening of adulthood, waiting around the corner. In the famous chorus, using only a handful of words, Mellencamp conveys one of the saddest processes that many people experience:
“Oh yeah – life goes on – Long after the thrill of living is gone…”
Another rock legend, Bruce Springsteen, talks of the same phenomenon in his song “The River”, released only a few months before Mellencamp’s hit. Springsteen uses the metaphor of a river to describe the flow of life from birth to death. In his lyrics, the tragedy of life comes at the point where dreams are gone, and along with them the truths of one’s youth:
“Is a dream a lie if it don't come true
Or is it something worse
That sends me down to the river
Though I know the river is dry”
Many of us experience this transition in our midlife years. Sometimes it turns into a crisis, and sometimes it turns our lives around, and starts a new and exciting chapter. This is the point in life where the language changes, and instead of “I will and “I may” people start saying I “Could Would Soulda”. Springsteen’s river, or Mellencamp’s “Thrill of living” are the energy of youth, the blend of passion and enthusiasm that fuels the hope of a dreaming young individual. Scientists often refer to it as “zest”.
A few years ago, when I was going through my own midlife transition, I got a motorcycle license and went on the road on a journey to finding inner peace. I met with several experts, the first of which was Coach Caroline Miller, who has been helping people turn their lives around for decades. She was the first one to tell me about zest:
“The antidote to the fear is zest — a quality that is in abundance in children but declines rapidly by the time you’re in your forties and fifties. You need a certain amount of zest, or joie de vivre. “Why not?” as opposed to “why?” A lot of people have that beaten out of them by life, by disappointments, by people who surround them… The best approach is to keep an optimistic mindset while, at the same time, being mindful and aware of what is going on in front of you… You have to pretend you’re an optimist… There’s something about the risk/benefits ratio that I find interesting, which is: in the short term, we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen when we take risks. But when you take the first risks, you respect yourself more.”
Five weeks later, at the very end of my motorcycle ride, I met with Deepak Chopra, the author of “Grow Younger Live Longer”. Chopra speaks about being “childlike” and playful, and about maintaining a youthful mind as a means of growing younger:
“To maintain a youthful mind, write down two or three things you can do that are totally childlike. Think of something that evokes childhood for you – eating an ice cream cone, going to a playground to swing, coloring a picture, jumping rope, building a sand castle. Find something that brings back the sense of fun you had as a child, even if you think you’ve outgrown it, and choose one of these activities to do today.
Being playful has been shown to contribute to one’s well-being, as is humor and the ability to see the funny side of things. At the end of the day, even though it’s a cliché, it is all in one’s head. To make your river run again, to be zestful, passionate, and hopeful, to refuel your dreams with the thrill of your youth, all you have to do is go out and play. Allow yourself to be childish and immature, and slap yourself silly when you catch yourself making a stern face. As both Mellencamp and Springsteen can tell you today, more than 30 years after releasing their songs, you are never too old to Rock’n’roll, unless you choose to be.